11 June 2019
Smoking wood, what to use when
Smoking with wood chips, wood chunks and wooden grilling planks
Fancy some smoked salmon or a delicious smoked duck breast? You can prepare them yourself on the Big Green Egg! Thanks to the lid you can easily transform an EGG into a real smoker. The unique ceramic material keeps your ingredients juicy and ensures a constant temperature. But which smoking wood should you use for which purpose?
To use your Big Green Egg as a smoker or smoke box, all you need, besides your kamado, is smoking wood. For most smoking sessions you will also need a convEGGtor, which you probably already have. In this blog we are focusing on hot smoking, so working with a cold smoke generator and wood shavings will not be discussed (although you can use the Big Green Egg for that, too). This allows us to look more closely at the various options available to simultaneously smoke and cook ingredients. This is an easy technique in which you use wood as a natural flavouring, which also releases a delicious aroma.
Smoky flavour using charcoal
The use of good charcoal already imparts a subtle smoky flavour. For example, have you ever baked an apple pie in your EGG? The flavour is so good that once you do, you’ll never want to do anything else. When you smoke food, you deliberately add a certain flavour to your ingredients. BBQ recipes usually indicate which flavour of smoking wood you should use, but not why this wood in particular is such a perfect match for the ingredient. Or when you should opt for wood chips or wood chunks. And which ingredients are suitable for a wooden grilling plank. Once you have this basic knowledge, you can start experimenting.
Wood chips, wood chunks or a wooden grilling plank
For hot smoking, use wood chips, wood chunks or a grilling plank. Wood chips are especially suitable for shorter smoking sessions, up to about thirty minutes. You can use them to smoke and cook fish and poultry and thinner thick pieces of meat, but also to smoke other ingredients such as couscous. If you are planning a longer smoking session, for example for a nice large piece of meat like smoked belly pork, then opt for chunks. This is simply because they emit smoke for a long time.
If you don’t have any chunks at hand, you could also mix wood chips with the charcoal. Ignite the charcoal with one charcoal starter and spread the smoking wood all over the charcoal. You could also sprinkle another handful of wood chips on the charcoal every half hour, but this is harder to dose, and it is not ideal to have to keep removing and replacing your ingredients, the grid and the convEGGtor.
Smoking wood: to soak or not to soak
Opinions differ on whether or not to soak wood chips. You could soak the wood chips in advance but you don’t have to. One of the arguments against soaking is the difference in temperature caused by sprinkling damp chips on the glowing charcoal. Because you almost always use the convEGGtor when using wood chips (and chunks), the temperature in your EGG drops when the wood is added. Soaking your wood chips will cause it to drop even further.
Meat and fish will absorb the smoke as long as the pores are open, which is roughly as long as the product is still moist on the outside. The lower the temperature of your EGG, the longer this takes, and the longer your product absorbs the smoky flavour. Moreover, you create not only smoke, but also steam. If that is what you want, then you should soak the wood chips, of course.
In any case, you don’t have to soak wood chips to prevent them from catching fire. Given the fact that you are smoking with a closed lid, the limited air supply makes this impossible. Soaking the chunks is pointless, because – given the hardness of the wood and the size of the pieces – you would have to soak them for days, and even then there would be little effect.
|Soaking wood chips||Not soaking wood chips|
|Drop in EGG temperature||No drop in EGG temperature|
|More intense smoky flavour||Less intense smoky flavour|
|Initial steam development||Immediate smoke development|
Smoking with a grilling plank
With a wooden grilling plank you smoke in a different way than with wood chips or wood chunks. As a rule, you smoke at a much higher temperature than with chips or chunks: between 175°C and 225°C. In principle, you do not have to use a convEGGtor because the grilling plank already forms a heat shield. The intention is for the underside of the plank to smoulder, giving your ingredients a refined smoke accent. Alder and cedar are often used for grilling planks. These are soft woods that absorb moisture quickly and give off a mild smoky flavour.
Wooden grilling planks must be soaked for at least an hour. If you do not soak the plank, it may well catch fire, as you are smoking at a high temperature and your air supply is greater.
Grilling planks are very suitable for delicate ingredients such as fish fillets (with the added advantage that they do not stick to your grid), shrimps, scallops, vegetables and small dishes. Prepare these smoked mackerel fillets, for example. You can also smoke steak on a plank, but grill it afterwards on the cast iron grid for a nice Maillard reaction.
Smoking on hay
Apart from wood, you can also use other natural materials for smoking. One of these is hay (unsprayed). When you smoke on hay, the hay flavour is imparted to the ingredients. Hay burns quickly so it should not be thrown on the glowing charcoal. Basically, you put the hay on the grid with the ingredient on top, possibly covered with extra hay. You do not use a convEGGtor.
You can let the (unsoaked) hay catch fire and then close the lid and seal off the air supply. The hay will smoulder and smoke. In the case of perishable products, take the outdoor temperature into account, as you will be leaving it there overnight.
The easiest and safest way to smoke on hay is to thoroughly soak the hay. As indicated above, you put the soaked hay with the ingredient on the grid. The radiant heat causes the hay to smoke, immediately forming a heat shield that protects your ingredient. Close the lid immediately and let the temperature of your kamado rise to a maximum of 130°C.
Types of wood
In addition to the different types of smoking wood, there are also different flavours, depending on the type of wood. Some are interchangeable. For example, alder and cedar wooden grilling planks are both quite mild. Fruitwood, such as apple and cherry, is also quite mild, while mesquite and hickory are stronger varieties that give off an intense smoky flavour.
The guiding principle is that ingredients with mild flavours are best combined with a mild type of wood. On the other hand, ingredients that contain strong flavours, whether or not through a rub or marinade, will not be overpowered by smoking wood that imparts a more intense flavour. Flavours such as pecan, beech and whisky wood generally suit all ingredients. When in doubt, you can always use one of these types.
Beware of overuse, especially with heavier wood types. A handful of wood chips is often enough for a short smoking session and you should start a long smoking session with two chunks. A slightly less intense smoky flavour still gives a nice result, but too much smoke can cause a bitter taste. If you want a more intense flavour, then add some extra smoking wood next time you make the same recipe.
The table below shows which types of wood suit which products. Of course, you can experiment and decide for yourself what you like best!
|WOOD CHIPS||WOOD CHUNKS||SMOKING PLANK|
|for smoking sessions up to 30 minutes, with convEGGtor||for smoking sessions loner than 30 minutes, with convEGGtor||for smoking sessions at higher temperatures, without convEGGtor|
|Flavour||soaking is optional||do not soak||soak for at least 1 hour|
|Apple (mild – sweet, fruity)||fish (fillets), crustaceans, pork, veal, white meat poultry, citrus, yellow fruit, almonds||pork, veal and white meat poultry||fish fillets (e.g. salmon, trout, sea bass and mackerel), seafood such as prawns and scallops, cuts of chicken, steaks, salmon or steak tartare, small dishes|
|Cherry (mild medium – sweet, slightly fruity)||fish (fillets), seasoned pork, lamb, beef, dark meat poultry like duck, wildfowl, peppers, red fruit, peppers||spiced pork, lamb, beef, dark poultry like duck, wildfowl||fish fillets (e.g. salmon, trout, sea bass and mackerel), seafood such as prawns and scallops, cuts of chicken, steaks, salmon or steak tartare, small dishes|
|Pecan (medium – nutty)||fish, such as mackerel, beef, dark meat poultry like duck, game, milk chocolate, salt||whole fish, such as mackerel, beef, dark meat poultry like duck, game||n/a|
|Hickory (intense, smoky, spicy)||beef, seasoned pork, game, nuts||beef, seasoned pork, game, often used for pulled pork and brisket||n/a|
|Mesquite (intense, earthy, slightly sweet)||beef, seasoned pork, game||beef, seasoned pork, game, often used for pulled pork and brisket||n/a|
|Cedar (mild-medium)||fish (fillets), pork, veal, lamb, beef, poultry||n/a||fish fillets (e.g. salmon, trout, sea bass and mackerel), seafood such as shrimps and scallops, poultry cuts, steaks, salmon or steak tartare, vegetables, small dishes|
|Alder (mild, sweet)||fish (fillets) e.g. salmon, trout, sea bass and mackerel, seafood as shrimps and scallops, pork, veal, white meat poultry, vegetables||pork, veal and white meat poultry||fish (fillets) e.g. salmon, trout, sea bass and mackerel, seafood such as shrimps and scallops, poultry cuts, steaks, salmon or steak tartare, vegetables, small dishes|
|Oak (medium-intense)||fish, pork, lamb, beef, poultry, game||fish, pork, lamb, veal, beef, poultry, game||n/a|
|Beech (medium)||fish, pork, lamb, beef, poultry, game||fish, pork, lamb, veal, beef, poultry, game||n/a|
|Whisky (medium-sweet)||fish, pork, lamb, beef, poultry, game||fish, pork, lamb, veal, beef, poultry, game||n/a|
Purchasing smoking wood
You can purchase smoking wood at a barbecue shop, a garden centre or a cookery shop with a barbecue department, whether you want to work with wood chips, wood chunks or wooden grilling planks. Of course, you can always visit your local Big Green Egg dealer for smoking wood. If you are curious about the flavour of hay-smoked food, go to your local pet shop for unsprayed hay.
Smoking on your Big Green Egg
Looking for recipes that use the smoking technique? Get started right away with one of these delicious BBQ recipes.
BIG GREEN EGG ACCESSOIRES
Thanks to our unique range of accessories, you can do more with your Big Green Egg than you ever thought possible. Discover which accessories match your model, how to use them to get the best out of your ingredients and how they can contribute to expanding the many possibilities of your EGG.